The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland that sits in the front of the neck.
It produces hormones that regulate many important functions in the body, including metabolism.
When the thyroid doesn’t produce enough hormones, it’s called hypothyroidism.
According to the American Thyroid Association (ATA), an estimated 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease. (1)
While many cases are mild and require no treatment, others can be more serious.
If you suspect you have a thyroid problem, it’s important to be aware of the early warning signs and see a doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment.
Let’s take a look at some of the signs of thyroid problems.
One of the most common early warning signs of thyroid problems is fatigue.
The thyroid hormone plays an important role in regulating energy levels in the body.
2. Weight Gain
What causes weight gain when you have a thyroid problem? It’s complicated.
In some cases, hypothyroidism can slow down your metabolism, making it harder to lose weight.
In other cases, the weight gain may be due to fluid retention.
Thyroid problems can also lead to cravings for certain foods, which can contribute to weight gain.
According to the American Thyroid Association (ATA), hypothyroidism can contribute to 5-10 pounds of body weight in most people, depending on the severity. (3)
Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about recent weight gain.
3. Unintentional weight loss
Unintentional weight loss is another indication of thyroid problems.
Hyperthyroidism, or an overactive thyroid, can speed up your metabolism and cause you to lose weight unexpectedly.
If you’ve lost a significant amount of weight without making any changes to your diet or exercise routine, it’s worth talking to your doctor.
4. Increased sensitivity to cold
Cold sensitivity is a well-known sign of hypothyroidism.
People with an underactive thyroid may feel cold all the time, even when others are comfortable.
They may also have chills and feel especially cold in their extremities, such as their hands and feet.
This sensation of coldness may be felt even when it’s hot or during the summer.
Let me explain.
Thyroid hormones help regulate the body’s metabolism, and an underactive thyroid can lead to a slower metabolism.
A slower metabolism can make it harder to generate heat and make a person feel cold all the time.
5. Slowed Heart Rate
Everyone’s body has a natural resting heart rate.
The number of times your heart beats per minute when you’re not active.
A healthy adult has a resting heart rate of 60 to 100 beats per minute.
If you have an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), your resting heart rate tends to be slower than normal.
This happens because your thyroid is not making enough thyroid hormone to keep your body running at its best.
A heart rate that’s consistently below 60 beats per minute is one of the most typical early signs of thyroid problems.
6. Increased heart rate
An overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism), on the other hand, can cause your heart rate to be higher than normal.
A heart rate that exceeds 100 beats per minute is considered tachycardia.
Tachycardia can cause shortness of breath, chest pain, and lightheadedness.
7. Trouble sleeping
Thyroid problems can also affect your sleep patterns.
Hyperthyroidism may cause insomnia, while hypothyroidism may lead to excessive sleepiness.
8. Dry Skin
Hypothyroidism is typically characterized by dry, itchy skin.
This is caused by a decrease in the production of natural oils and moisture-retaining substances.
People with hypothyroidism may also notice that their skin feels unusually thick, rough, and/or scaly.
According to research, 50% of people with hypothyroidism experience some sort of skin problem. (4)
9. Hoarse voice
Thyroid problems can cause changes in your voice.
The hormone receptors found in the larynx, or voice box, are very responsive to changes in thyroid hormone levels.
An overactive thyroid can cause the vocal cords to vibrate more rapidly, leading to a higher pitch and a scratchy or husky quality of your voice.
An underactive thyroid can have the opposite effect and make your voice sound more muffled and slow. (5)
Also, goiter, which is an enlarged thyroid gland, can put pressure on the nerves and muscles in your throat, causing hoarseness.
10. Difficulty swallowing
A goiter, or an enlarged thyroid gland, can press against the esophagus and make it difficult to swallow.
This may cause pain or a burning sensation when you eat or drink.
If you have any trouble swallowing, it’s important to see your doctor right away.
11. Muscle weakness
Muscle weakness is a common symptom of hypothyroidism.
The weakness can be so severe that everyday activities such as climbing stairs or carrying groceries become very difficult.
Why does this happen?
The thyroid hormone is responsible for maintaining muscle strength and function.
When the thyroid isn’t producing enough hormone, muscles throughout the body may begin to weaken.
Studies have found that myalgia (muscle aches and pain) affects almost 80 percent of patients with hypothyroidism (6)
12. Pain in the joints
Hypothyroidism can also cause joint pain.
The pain is often described as achy and may be worse in the morning.
The joints may also feel stiff, especially after sitting or lying down for a long period of time.
13. Menstrual changes
Thyroid problems can cause changes in your menstrual cycle.
Hypothyroidism may lead to heavier and longer periods, while hyperthyroidism may cause lighter and more frequent periods.
According to some research, 8-12% of women with a healthy thyroid gland have irregular periods, whereas 23-68% of women with hypothyroidism have irregular periods (7)
14. Brain Fog
Thyroid hormones are known to play an important role in cognitive function and memory.
People with thyroid problems often report feeling forgetful, confused, and unable to concentrate.
If you find yourself feeling “foggy” or having trouble focusing, it could be a sign that your thyroid isn’t functioning properly.
Clinical trials and functional brain imaging studies have shown that severe hypothyroidism is linked to cognitive deterioration, which can be reversed with treatment. (9)
15. Swelling in the neck
A swelling or enlargement, also known as a goiter in the neck, can be a sign of thyroid problems.
If you have a goiter, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have thyroid disease, but it’s something you should have checked out by a doctor. (10)
Do you experience any of these symptoms?
If you have any of these symptoms, it’s important to see your doctor so that they can run some tests and determine if you have a thyroid problem.
With proper treatment, most thyroid problems can be managed effectively.